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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Jason Mewes
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Kevin Smith
MPAA RATING
Rated R
RUNNING TIME
101 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Weinstein Co.
 "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" Review 
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It's no secret...I love writer/director Kevin Smith.

I don't want to fuck him, mind you. I just really, really love him.

Smith's View Askew universe strikes me as the sort of place I could exist rather comfortably. Smith doesn't seem to give a shit if you're skinny or fat, old or young, black or white, guy or girl, gay or straight, or whatever.

In Smith's cinematic world, we're all pretty fucked up and, well, that's alright.

Smith is a better writer than director, but I'm not sure who could possibly be entrusted to create the worlds that Smith creates. While Judd Apatow has a similar sensibility, Apatow is built for mass appeal.

Smith? I can't really fathom a world in which he suddenly becomes king of cinema and I'm not sure he can either. The simple truth is that Smith is a good, not great writer/director and he seems content, if not downright committed, to simply remaining king of the View Askew universe.

While I loved "Clerks II" and have really only ever trashed "Jersey Girl" (and who didn't?), "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" may very well be the film that makes the View Askew universe visible to a wider audience.

Will it win the box-office? Doubtful. It's too out there, the title's too controversial and, yes, it's over-the-top raunchiness will scare away the masses.

It's their loss, really. "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" is a damn fine film.

Zack (Seth Rogen, "Pineapple Express") and Miri (Elizabeth Banks, "W.") are platonic roommates, lifelong friends and perpetually broke.

Between that introductory storyline and the film's title, you should have a pretty clear idea of where "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" is going. While his dialogue is crisp, at least as crisp as f-bomb heavy dialogue can be, Smith's script doesn't really deviate from the raunchy sweet formula that has made Judd Apatow a household name.

The difference? Smith crosses lines that I dare say not even Apatow would cross and yet, somehow, his warm and mushy center comes off as more convincing.

In other words, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is raunchier than an Apatow comedy while also being more emotionally satisfying.

I've never been completely sold on Rogen as a romantic leading man, not even in films that largely emphasize the lighter side of love and sex. Rogen is quite funny, but he's always struck me as a notch below in the emotional range needed to pull off romantic and/or the quieter, more vulnerable scenes.

It bothered me in "Knocked Up," a film that worked more because he and Heigl were funny if not particularly convincing as a couple.

Despite these reservations, there's something about "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" that simply works.

Rogen is hilarious.

Banks is absolutely delightful.

Together? There's the perfect blend of raunchy comedy, tender humanity and even a bit of a spark. Smith displays a previously unseen vulnerability with Banks, while they both play off each other beautifully in the film's naughtier moments.

The odd thing is it's hard not to think about Smith himself while watching the pairing. Smith, who isn't shy about making fun of his not so svelte figure, is married to hottie Jennifer Schwalbach (who makes a cameo here) and anyone who has ever read Smith's blog will likely reflect on Smith's frequent writings about his relationship and sexual activities.

An ill-fated flirtation by Miri at the duo's 10-year reunion with former heartthrob (Brandon Routh, "Superman") and current gay porn star Bobby Long and Miri's becoming an unexpected sensation on Youtube in her "granny panties" leads the two to realize the only way they can get out of their financial doldrums is to make their own amateur porno with the help of a co-worker of Zack's (Craig , "The Office"), an old friend from high school who knows how to run a video camera (Jeff Anderson, "Clerks") and a motley crew of co-stars including a couple of real life former porn stars, Traci Lords and Katie Morgan along with Smith regular Jason Mewes.

You do know where this is going, right?

On the way to making a porno, there will be obstacles, sex jokes, body fluids, offensive humor and the entire ensemble cast will unite behind the project while, yes, Zack and Miri will discover that after 10 years as best friends they actually can't "just have sex."  The problem is, gosh darn it, they actually care about each other.

Most directors seem to inevitably choose one or the other...raunchfest or warm-hearted comedy.

Not Smith. Smith chooses both and, at times, it works to the detriment of the film. There are times that "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" feels uneven, especially in the film's waning moments as Smith tries to wind up the storyline without losing any of the film's edginess.

He really can't help it. Some of the edginess is lost, though it does venture its way back in if you're smart enough to stay for the film's closing credits.

Despite the fact that "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" doesn't always fire on all cylinders, it's easily one of 2008's better comedies largely due to its ensemble cast.

I've already said it, but I'll say it again...Rogen and Banks are spot-on perfect as the BFF's forever who are discovering it may have become time to be more.

Robinson steals virtually all of his scenes, while Mewes is frequently laugh out loud funny as Lester, a role that allows Mewes to show far more than we've previously seen of him both literally and as an actor.

While their casting seems largely out of novelty, both Katie Morgan and Traci Lords redeem themselves nicely and Morgan, in particular, displays a surprising depth to her performance.

In his smaller role, Brandon Routh and Justin Long ("The Mac Guy") camp it up in hilarious Smith style as gay lovers and fellow porn stars.

Frequent Smith collaborator David Klein's cinematography gives the Monroeville/Pittsburgh shot film a bright look while the film's soundtrack rocks.

While I'm not quite ready to call "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" Smith's finest, it does offer solid evidence that the View Askew universe is growing and Smith is becoming quite the filmmaker. Thanks to an ensemble cast who seems as comfortable with raunchy as it is real, "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" is one of fall 2008's most pleasant surprises.

by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
Copyright 2008

    The Official Rating Guideline
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